Henry Gershman lives and works in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he is the president and CEO of Hailey Food Products, the world’s leading purveyor of corn-based snack products. But he only ever snacks on Fritos.
My life in snacks truly began in late spring of 1976.
The bus let us out at the corner of Keweenaw Creek Parkway and Central Avenue. Daniel, Kyle, Henry Garfinkel, Hailey, and me, the other Henry. We’d cross the bridge and jaywalk to the body shop with the old vending machines. Our secret vending machines. The ones that only cost a nickel.
Some days Daniel had science club. Sometimes Kyle got a ride home from his biological father, but Henry Garfinkel, Hailey, and I always had the walk home.
Hailey and I found the machines one day while Alex was relieving himself in the creek.
I had a few coins leftover from that day’s pretzel sale. Hailey had the change her mother taped to the inside of her lunchbox for emergencies.
Hailey bought Fritos. I did the same. I bought a Cherry 7Up. Hailey did the same.
I’d always wondered what falling in love would be like. At 12 years old, I figured this was close enough.
We sat on the hood of a broken down Buick and snacked in silence.
Eventually Henry Garfinkel climbed out of the creek, and our moment was over. He bought cheese crackers and a Diet Coke.
From then on, that was what we did. Every day.
And every day, Hailey became more beautiful, her shorts shorter, her skin tanner, her lips glistening with Frito oil, and her body perfumed by cherry flavoring.
Daniel and Kyle came in and out of our afternoon routine, but school functions and their parents’ plans kept them mostly off the bus, which left me free to dream.
If only Hailey and I could have one more moment to ourselves.
But every day, Henry Garfinkel was there. A wall of cheese crackers standing in the way of our love.
Then one day, the wall crumbled.
We had our Fritos. We had our Cherry 7Up. We had Henry Garfinkel bringing up the rear. And then we had two men in a Ford Bronco pulling up next to us. Henry Garfinkel threw his can and crackers on the ground and started sprinting home. Why? Well that’s just the kind of thing he did.
The men wanted directions. I put them in the right direction, and they drove off. And then it was me and Hailey.
Alone at last.
We started walking home. Slow. Neither of us saying a word. Wanting so badly to express some kind of emotion. As we walked, we got closer. Our Cherry 7Up cans started clinking.I could feel the fine hair of her forearms brushing against mine.
My heart was pounding, but the rest of my body was frozen. And before I knew it, we were standing in the middle of the street between our houses. We faced each other. I wanted to tell her everything, but all I could manage was “Seeya tomorrow.”
That’s when she turned away.
I reluctantly did the same.
When I opened the front door, there was a detective sitting in the living room. Henry Garfinkel had called the police about the two men who stopped for directions. He said he thought they were neo-Nazis.
Henry Garfinkel was an idiot.
And so I sat facing the window in the living room on the good furniture with my snacks on a tray that my mother had brought from the kitchen. I answered the detective’s questions and stared at Hailey’s yard, where she was taking a swim in her above ground pool.
Hating myself for not saying anything.
I poured the remaining Fritos into my hand and shoved them into my mouth.
Years later, I would learn that my deep emotional connection to snacks came from these simple, teenage moments.
And would directly lead to me building my snack empire.